By Budd Bailey, Buffalo Sports Page Columnist
Rochester – Matt Vinc has been the gold standard for goaltenders in the National Lacrosse League for most of his career. He came out of Canisius 13 years ago, and quickly established himself as the best at the position in the game. Vinc has been part of three championships in Rochester, and is a cinch Hall of Famer when the time comes.
Now, the 35-year-old looks like he’s ready for at least One More Hurrah.
Vinc was on the top of his game for the Knighthawks on Saturday night. He stopped 47 of 55 saves as Rochester defeated Saskatchewan, 13-8. The results evened the best-of-three series at a game each.
Who would have expected anything different?
“It’s the same thing every night – he gives us an opportunity to win,” coach Mike Hasen of the Knighthawks said. “He’ll do whatever it takes to win – on the floor and off the floor. He takes care of the team.”
“Vinc was Vinc,” coach Derek Keenan of the Rush (and an original Buffalo Bandit) said simply.
Rochester needed its goalie to come through on Saturday night at the Blue Cross Arena, because there was no margin for error. The Knighthawks dropped the first game of the series in Saskatoon last week, so the Rush had a chance to wrap up its third championship in four years in this one.
“Cody Jamieson said we’re better when our backs are to the wall,” Vinc said. “You can’t feel sorry for yourself at that point. Seven other teams would love to be in our position (of being in the finals).”
GOOD START WASTED
It was a slightly odd game. The Rush came out with some fire, scoring the contest’s first two goals within the first four minutes. But Rochester responded with three straight goals to take the lead. Oddly, Saskatchewan would not score two consecutive goals for the rest of the night. In a sport known for a run of goals, that would prove crucial.
After Ryan Keenan got the Rush back to even very late in the first period, a big moment took place. Austin Shanks scored a short-handed goal to give Rochester the lead , and the Knighthawks never trailed from that moment on. Saskatchewan was outscored, 5-1, in the second period to trail by 8-4 after 30 minutes.
The second half was simply a matter of Rochester doing enough to keep the Rush in check. Vinc certainly took care of that. One save in the third period on a breakaway drew a long standing ovation from the crowd of 9,174, and everyone sort of knew by then it was his night.
“Some of the difference was that we got some bounces,” Vinc said. “(Coach Hasen) says when you work hard, you get the bounces. They did have some breakaways, but it was a case of our guys getting back to contest them.”
On a night when ex-Bandit Joe Resetarits was held in check (one assist), Josh Currier picked up the scoring load for the Knighthawks. Currier had four goals and two assists, while Graeme Hossack had two goals and 16 loose balls. Jeff Shattler had seven points to lead Saskatchewan, although Mark Matthews was held without a goal. The Rush hadn’t been held to eight goals all season.
ONE FOR THE TITLE
The indoor lacrosse season ended a long time ago in Buffalo, as the Bandits didn’t make the playoffs. But the playoffs went on without them, and now we still have one more game to be played. The winner gets possession of the first NLL Cup (the old Champions’ Cup has been retired). By the way, it will be Vinc’s 36th birthday that night. Could he ask for a better present?
Saskatchewan worked hard for the home field advantage in this situation, and it will have it on Saturday night in Saskatoon. But, as we saw in Rochester on this night, a goaltender can make all the difference over 60 short minutes. The Rush will hope for a third title in four years; the Knighthawks will try to win a fourth title in the decade. You couldn’t ask for much more.
“We did this three weeks ago against Calgary,” Derek Keenan said about the do-or-die situation. “We’ve got a lot of guys who have played big games in their careers.”
“If you’re not ready for this game, you shouldn’t be playing,” Hasen said. “Not much needs to be said.”
(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB.)